GENEVA – Syria peace talks in Geneva this week should prosper from a tighter format and a recent deal to reduce the violence, UN mediator Staffan De Mistura said on Monday, playing down dismissive comments by President Bashar Al-Assad.
Previous rounds of talks have produced agreement that the warring sides will discuss a four-part agenda, but no progress has yet been made on any topic.
Under pressure from international backers, the two sides have agreed to discuss a new constitution, reformed governance, new elections and the fight against terrorism, but they differ sharply over what those agenda items mean.
Opposition negotiators have demanded Assad’s removal.
De Mistura denied the UN was being used as a diplomatic smokescreen for more war.
“If being a mediator and trying to find common points (means) ‘being used’, I would accept that. The alternative is no discussion, no hope, no political horizon, just waiting for facts on the ground to take place,” de Mistura told reporters.
He said the United States was increasingly engaged and interested in the process, and he hinted at high-level diplomacy going on behind the scenes.
“Everything is connected. There are big important meetings taking place, that will be taking place. There are discussions taking place in capitals. They do have an impact on what we discuss. But I am not going to elaborate now.”
The Geneva round of talks comes on the heels of a deal by Russia, Turkey and Iran to arrange and monitor “de-escalation zones” in Syria to ease the fighting.
But he cautioned that no reduction of violence could last without a political horizon to aim at. “That is exactly what we are pushing for”.
Previous rounds in Geneva have proceeded at funereal pace, punctuated by what critics have called grandstanding media appearances by rival negotiators.
This round will be shorter and more business-like, starting on Tuesday and ending by Saturday, and with less room for rhetoric, De Mistura said.
“Even the rooms will be smaller, the type of meetings will be a little bit more interactive and proactive and more frequent, we will also choose some subjects to be focused on in order to get more movement.” – Reuters